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St. C. calls for participation in Census count

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Amber Kohler, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, answers questions Wednesday about Census participation. St. Clairsville Planning and Zoning Director Tom Murphy listens.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Census has begun and the city status of Belmont County’s seat hangs in the balance.

Invitations to respond to the 2020 Census are to be delivered between today and March 20. People can respond online, by phone or by mail. The city of St. Clairsville held a public meeting Wednesday at Marian Hall, St. Mary Catholic Church, to encourage participation.

In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the city’s population at 5,012. In Ohio, a community must have at least 5,000 residents to be classified as a city. All other municipalities are villages.

About a dozen city residents and officials turned out Wednesday. Planning and Zoning Administrator Tom Murphy speculated that fears related to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, may have kept residents away from the meeting.

Mayor Kathryn Thalman welcomed Census officials and underlined the importance of participation. She also thanked resident Gabrielle Fillon for suggesting a public meeting.

“This really counts, because if we fall below 5,000 people, we go from being a city to a village. If we lose that status, we lose out on a lot of grants and loans,” Thalman said.

Amber Kohler, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, and Lori Cook, a local recruiter assistant with the bureau, spoke and answered questions.

“Our mission is to count everyone once, only once and in the right place. Every resident in the nation needs to be counted,” Kohler said.

She said one obstacle to participation is fear of a breach of confidentiality. She reiterated that it is illegal for the bureau to release the information collected.

“We need to work within our communities to make them understand how confidential it is and how important it is,” she said. “We have the top-of-the-line data security. … Confidentiality’s the foundation of the Census Bureau.”

She said percentages of the $675 billion yearly allocated by the federal government for state and local governments are based on population. This covers Title I education, Head Start and free and reduced school breakfast and lunch programs.

“It’s our hospitals, it’s our clinics, its our roads and fire departments,” Kohler said, adding taxpayers often pay levies for these programs because they are underfunded due to low counts. She said other affected programs include housing vouchers, Medicare and SNAP benefits.

“Another reason is our representation,” she said, adding that Ohio had 23 representatives in Congress at one time but now has 16. “Ohio is slated to lose another one. … That is our voice in Congress growing quieter every decade.”

She went on to explain the questions on the Census form and how they relate to calculating the funding needed for various programs.

Kohler also addressed concerns that the novel coronavirus might impact Census operations.

“For the first time ever we do have that online option, so you’re able to do this from your home,” she said. “We are working with all of our entities such as our colleges who have had to … cancel classes.

“We are still hiring. It was supposed to end in February, but they decided to extend the hiring, so it’s going to go into this whole month,” Cook said.

She said a census-taker in Belmont County is paid $16 an hour and 58 cents per mile reimbursement monthly. To learn more about the census or employment, visit 2020census.gov.

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